Breast-feeding offers many health and development benefits for baby, says the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Kids get the right balance of nutrients to support optimal growth, fatty acids to promote brain development and protection against many childhood illnesses. And there are important emotional and physical benefits for moms as well.
"There is no question that breast-feeding is better for the health of mothers and children," said Nicole Else-Quest, an assistant professor of psychology at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, "but it is less clear how breast-feeding affects the mother-child relationship." Breast-feeding may help to establish an early bond, she added, but "it is only one of many ways to do so."
As for why there might be differences in stress between breast-fed and bottle-fed kids, Else-Quest said it is difficult to speculate "given that many factors influence the decisions to breast-feed in the first place."
The research team considered factors that might affect a child's reaction to stress and ability to cope, such as maternal depression, parental education levels, social class, and smoking habits. Even after accounting for those factors, breast-fed children were less anxious than their peers. In addition, bottle-fed children whose parents divorced were more anxious than breast-fed kids.
Yet the study findings don't prove that breast-feeding itself reduces anxiety. It may be a mark of close, early physical contact, the researchers noted.
"A child without such regular contact may perceive greater danger reacting to stress -- indicating a potentially dangerous situation -- with a more reactive and less well-controlled stress response," Montgomery said.
It's also possible, he added, that mothers who breast-fed simply have a better relationship with
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